As a child, come December 21 focusing on schoolwork was impossible. I’d long since created my wish list from the JCPenney catalogue and had been on my best behavior so as to ensure I would be in good graces with Santa Claus. Sleeping through the night was practically impossible, the prolonged sugar high following school holiday parties not helping matters. I longed for presents typical of any young girl – Barbies, art sets, videos, as well as some presents I’ve come to be embarrassed by, namely the New Kids on the Block pajamas I seem to be wearing in the bulk of the holiday photos from one Christmas in the very early 90′s. I’m pretty sure they look like this:
(Note that these are not my pajamas. I found this photo in this lovely post about 80′s and 90′s toys. This girl captures the loot of my Childhood Christmases perfectly as we seem to have all the same toys. Or maybe there was less variety in the 80′s and 90′s and everyone did. I digress.)
All these years later, some things stay the same, while others change. I’m still finding it a bit hard to concentrate these days with the holidays so near. It’s hard to focus on my job and other productive matters. But these days it’s less about the presents. I’m not going to say they don’t factor in at all because I genuinely enjoy shopping for others not to mention the surprise of what I’ll find under the tree.
But honestly, the older I get the more spending time with family and reveling in tradition is the source of the anticipation of excitement. Most of the traditions in our family stem from food. We have a core repertoire of cookies and dishes that tend to reappear year after year. So if you ever join my family for the holidays, don’t bring a dish you aren’t prepared to remake every December 25. Sure these are recipes for things like spinach dip and peanut butter blossoms that could be made any time of year, but in a culture where everything is so on demand and immediate there’s something nice about waiting for that once a year appearance.
I also enjoy learning about new traditions so I was excited when the people at Creminelli, a US-based producer of Italian-style artisan salumi and other meats, allowed me to sample two of their traditional holiday meats, Cotechino and Wild Boar Mortadella.
Despite being part Italian (my father’s father’s parents both emigrated from Sicily) I always enjoy experiencing traditional foods associated with my heritage and these meats were no exception. I’ve been a Creminelli fan (I previously wrote about them here and recommend that post if you want to learn more about their founder and story.) for almost a year now. I was first introduced to them through a blogger event and have been hooked since, sending one of their gift packages to my father for Father’s Day and treating myself to their salamis whenever I find them at the grocery store. Because of this, I had a good feeling I’d enjoy the meats. I’m not going to lie, they are higher priced than most salami and other deli meats, but the quality and craftsmanship story is great making them perfect for times when I want to get or eat something extra special.
Cotechino is unique in that it does require cooking before eating (I boiled mine in the bag it came in before lightly crisping it up in a greased hot pan.). But most fun is its cultural significance. According to Wikipedia, it’s traditionally served New Year’s Eve for good luck. All of my research suggested it’s still relatively unknown in the US, but quite common in Italy. (In fact, many regions have their own unique version of the sausage with distinctive variations and differences.) It’s generally accompanied by lentils said to symbolize ‘coins’ and wealth one will receive in the new year, hence the connection back to luck. Whether you subscribe to the symbolism or not, Cotechino itself is delicious. This one bursted with pork flavor and was nicely punctuated with clove, one of my favorite wintery spices. There is also a nice, but not overpowering, hit of garlic, which is always a welcome flavor for me. I will admit I was a bit nervous about the idea of boiling a salami since it is a little foreign to me, but I loved the result. The texture was perfectly supple and tender. I’m thinking I might have to get it again and share it with my grandfather. He’s quite proud of his heritage and I think he’d get a kick out of this special holiday treat.
In the meantime, I’m excited to be able to share Creminelli with my readers. They’re giving away their Gourmet Artisan Salami Mix. While I sadly haven’t tried this for myself, my entire family raved about it after Father’s Day .
Want to win? Leave a comment telling me what your favorite holiday (Christmas, New Year’s, Chanukah, etc.) tradition is.
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Please note, Creminelli sent me samples of their Mortadella and Cotechino to try, but the ideas and opinions represented in this post are my own. I’m a bit of a charcuterie fan all on my own.